Authenticity often comes with a costTrans Progressive Thursday, December 10th, 2015
Commentary: Trans Progressive
I remember some aspects of when I first came out, back in early 2003, which have really stuck in my memory. Many of those experiences have contributed to how I approach my life as a trans woman now, almost 13-years later. It’s not lost on me how my transgender peers are treated when we stand out as trans, especially when we’re visibly trans at the intersection of another minority population.
In 1987 I had an experience that shaped how I approach being out. I took a Human Sexuality class at Long Beach City College, and for one of the classes we had three transgender people come in to talk about their trans experiences – two trans women and a trans man. One of the trans women and the trans man were in their 30s and passed in their transitioned genders, and the other trans woman was in her 50s and didn’t. The two younger ones were out to friends and family, and the younger woman to her employer. The other trans woman was retired and not out, and talked about her life in a way that didn’t strike a number of us in the class as authentic.
My take-away from that class was about authenticity. Two out of three of the trans people who presented to the class seemed authentic and one didn’t. The inauthentic one gave us a presentation and answers to our student questions that felt rote and “supposed to be” answers instead of sincere sounding ones. It’s not that they weren’t all trans, but they didn’t all come off as genuine to the seams.
And in early spring of 2003 when I began my transition, those three people shaped my approach. I knew I had to be whole, real and honest.
But what I shared with that retired trans woman I met in that 1987 Human Sexuality class is I didn’t begin by passing as female. My transition plan was to go on estrogen for about six months, have beard removal begin and then start presenting as Autumn. What actually happened was that the endocrinologist at the Veterans Health Administration in La Jolla acted as a gatekeeper, and told me that if I wanted estrogen tablets I’d need to prove to her that I was serious about transition. So, I began my transition within a week of that appointment, and had coworkers take daily photographs for 2½ months of female gender performance to document my transition for that endocrinologist.
I began my transition as someone who looked like “a man in a dress” – even when I was wearing pants. I remember specifically that when I wore my one pair of calf high boots, I was taken for a prostitute.
It took 2½ years of beard removal and estrogen pills for me to begin passing as female. I got the luck of the genetic draw on appearance, and the luck of financial security to pay for things such as a legal change of name and gender, as well as for hormones. And even though I’m at the intersection of the transgender and disability populations, both of those minority statuses are for the most part invisible.
In West Des Moines, Iowa a few months back, Meagan Taylor went to a Drury Inn on the way to a funeral. Meagan is black, and her ID card still shows her male name.
When Meagan checked in to the hotel, she was profiled by the manager of the motel as a “hooker” because, as the motel manager explained, the situation was “unusual” because, “They’re dressed as a woman, but it’s a man’s driver’s license” and “ I guess they’re dressed a little bit over the top too – I just want to make sure they’re not hookers either.” The manager also stated, “I took pictures with my camera.”
We know this because, according to staff attorney Chase Strangio of the ACLU, “… the ACLU of Iowa have obtained the audio recording of the 911 call placed by Drury Hotel staff after Meagan and her friend checked in.” The ACLU posted the 141 second call from the Drury Inn manager to the police.
I know what it’s like to be ridiculed and be denigrated with hate speech for being visibly transgender; I know what it’s like to be profiled for being visibly transgender. Authenticity often comes with a cost: transgender people are a long way from changing the hearts and minds of the prejudiced.
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